European Review of Speculative Fiction
Title: The Rules of Supervillainy
Imagine Sophocles and Voltaire got fall down drunk and bet one another they could rewrite the superhero genre using only cliches, tropes, and snark. Enter C.T Phipps’ inaugural novel in the Supervillainy Series, The Rules of Supervillainy. It’s good dumb fun with a razor blade snuck inside. Good satire distracts its audience with laughter then stabs them the sharp edge of social commentary. Phipps doesn’t bother distracting you, he just starts the fireworks and laser show, then whips out a machete and starts tearing apart cherished notions of modern mythology.
Written from the viewpoint of man conflicted by his world’s inane laissez faire attitude towards alien invasions, superhuman powers, clones and evil robots and, of course, supercriminals wearing costumes, the novel follows the antics of Merciless, who ends up being full of mercy. #irony. Phipps takes the Robot Chicken episode reimagining Harry Potter as a horny porn addled teenager and goes for it. What exactly would a realistic world look like if we accepted the insipid and spoof worthy antics of DC/Marvel/Valiant as both acceptable and normal? It would create Gary, a regular guy with a hot babe bisexual pagan wife and dead-end job, aspiring one day to rob a few banks, crush a few serial killer skulls, and wear a really bitchin’ cape.
Also Superman / Shazam is African American, the main character is Jewish, the bad guys are nazis and rapists, and all the hot babes are stronger, smarter, and more decent than the weird morally compromised menfolk. Phipps cannot resist screwing with the rules of comic plotting and the results are utterly predictable, which is the point, and utterly subversive, which is the stabby stab part. #metanarrative. The novel gets so meta the references become metareferential within the plot as well as across genres and with the trope database itself.
There’s a plot and characters and all that jazz, quite good and worth noting, but don’t let that distract you from Phipps’ main aim: to skewer every possible meme and ideal you ever had about heroics and morality. At times so dumb it’s smart and so smart it’s just dumb fun all over again, this rollercoaster has neither brakes nor safety features. The Rules turn out to be rather negotiable and probably wrong, as well as accidentally and easily broken by Merciless who manages to kill, plunder, and posture his way into a lunar supermax, meet the scary brainiac evil dude, wax poetic about sex, sexual politics, and the transient nature of love versus commitment, probably do both Kant and Hegel proud, and then while fighting zombies and serial killers, qualify pretty much half what Rosa Luxembourg and Gramsci had to say in that translation of an anthology of a synopsis you skimmed in grad school.
Will you like it? Yes. Will it make you question your easy moral stance on any number of complex and questionable things society paints as on/off black/white? Phipps hopes so.